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​WSMR radar suite deployed to the UAE (WSMR photo)

Range in a Box takes White Sands testing global
By Greg Devogel
May 24, 2017

Successful product development requires understanding the technical risks of the technology under development. Testing is the primary way to identify technical risks to a program.  But what is a program manager to do, when for various reasons, testing of that technology cannot be accommodated on a Department of Defense test range? White Sands Missile Range has solved this issue with their innovative Range in a Box concept which can support tests across the globe.

One customer wanted to use the range at White Sands, but they needed a large body of water to conduct their test. WSMR said no problem. In the summer and fall of 2015, WSMR packed up equipment and subject matter experts to support the first ballistic missile target launch in the United Kingdom, which was also the first SM-3 missile firing in Europe, and the first multinational maritime task group to conduct Integrated Air and Missile Defense while in a beyond line-of-sight link architecture.

"I could add other firsts as well," said U.S. Navy project lead Captain Eric Ver Hage. "The bottom line is that it is a privilege to be part of a project so significant and to work alongside the professionals of WSMR. It is great to see the Army/Navy White Sands team in action overseas. We couldn't conduct our mission here in Hebrides, Scotland, if it weren't for their superb support."

WSMR is a Major Range and Test Facility Base range operated by the Army Test and Evaluation Command.  It is the largest overland test range in the DoD. The Range tests systems employed by the Army, Navy, Air Force, other agencies, foreign governments, and contractors. The Range, simply stated, is massive.  It is approximately 40 miles east to west and 100 miles south to north, covering a usable area of 4,000 square miles. Lease and partnering agreements are capable of extending the Range's size to 7,619 square miles, when required.

At over 2.2 million acres, with terrain consisting of mountains rising 8,000 feet above sea level, grasslands, shrublands, alkali flats, gypsum dunes, and lava flows, almost every terrain type apart from littoral can be tested against at WSMR. The 11,130 square miles of restricted airspace associated with the Range stretches from ground level to space and has supported full-scale air battles while concurrently accommodating a 4,000-person Network Integration Evaluation on the ground.   

With a range of this size and with so many capabilities, it is difficult to imagine a test program that could not be accommodated at White Sands Missile Range. However, since the 1960s WSMR has been supporting customers from locations outside of the missile range. There are a variety of reasons for off-range testing including distance requirements. One of the earliest and most common examples is ballistic missile testing. Development of the Pershing I and II weapon systems required WSMR to support from places like Ft. Wingate, N.M., and Green River, Utah, to achieve the flight distances mandated. These were the launch points for the weapon system and the impact points were on WSMR. The need to fly over public lands and possibly endanger the public resulted in these types of test programs conducting extensive, shorter distance tests on DoD ranges first to understand risk to the public.

Testing on a DoD-controlled range should always be the program manger's first choice. Clever approaches that have been used in the past have included: 'race track' flight profiles, Failure Modes and Effects Analysis to understand risk, high-altitude shot profiles, reduced-flight profiles to terminal end only, and energy burn maneuvers to accommodate the program on the DoD range.

However, there are situations when these clever ideas are not enough, and the test program must use non-DoD-controlled areas. These kinds of tests require most of the same support as those conducted on a DoD range. The easiest and lowest risk approach is to hire a DoD range to remotely support the test efforts. In the case of upper tier ballistic missile defense systems, that is what the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) decided to do. The upper-tier ballistic missile defense systems are being tested over the Pacific Ocean and needed instrumentation and support similar to that which they had received while testing at WSMR. WSMR has provided this type of 'safari' support to MDA for years providing personnel and instrumentation for planning, launch, safety, tracking, and data collection at several land sites (Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands; Wake Island; Pacific Missile Range Facility, Hawaii; and Kodiak, Alaska) and on ships at sea (Pacific Collector, Pacific Tracker).

WSMR is a large range and that fact has, of necessity, caused the range's instrumentation approach to be oriented toward mobility. Test customers required unique impact and intercept geometry on the range and it was cost-effective to provide this support via mobile instrumentation systems. When MDA requested support for the Pacific Ocean tests, the range's instrumentation was already designed to be deployed to remote locations on the 2.2-million acre range in the southern New Mexico desert.

In addition to mobile radars, telemetry, and optics systems, WSMR had also developed the Transportable Range Augmentation and Control System.  This self-contained transportable system is used to support mission preparation, execution, real-time data collection and processing, mission control, flight safety, and quick-look post-mission data analysis. The TRACS system includes a flight termination system and two telemetry tracking stations. TRACS can be used in two mission configurations: the augmentation configuration, which allows augmenting existing range capabilities; and the stand-alone configuration which provides complete autonomous support at remote locations.  Basically, the TRACS is WSMR range control elements all wrapped up in a box.

Sometimes it is not instrumentation a test customer needs, but a threat representative assessment vehicle. The Navy Detachment at WSMR leveraged its experience in rocket science to develop the Aegis Readiness Assessment Vehicle – a multi-stage, ground-launched vehicle capable of presenting realistic ballistic vehicle trajectories and signatures of various real-world ballistic vehicles. The vehicles were designed and constructed in less than nine months at 1/5th to 1/50th the cost of competitor vehicles and can be launched from various locations throughout the world. 

Capabilities such as these have increased WSMR's deployable support. Two recent customers, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Maritime Theater Missile Defense At Sea Demonstration show how flexible these support elements can be. UAE as part of a Foreign Military Sales effort requested that a test be conducted within their country. WSMR teams deployed with very little planning time and conducted a highly-successful test series within the country.

In the current fiscal and political climate, it is increasingly important for program managers to execute test and evaluation as efficiently as possible.  These efficiencies must include schedules and solutions to technical challenges as well as costs.  It may not be readily apparent that the test competencies of the U.S. national ranges extend far beyond their respective physical boundaries and known capabilities. The US national ranges have become flexible and in some cases portable to support the warfighter of tomorrow.

This page was last updated on 10/26/2018 2:23 PM